Hemingway's Italy: New Perspectives.
This collection of nineteen essays evolved from the July 2002 Hemingway Society Conference in Stresa, Italy. Its editor, Rena Sanderson, graciously acknowledges what she calls its "groundbreaking precursor," Hemingway in Italy and Other Essays, edited by Robert W. Lewis; that collection, too, evolved from a Hemingway Society Conference, the 1986 meeting in Lignano Sabbiadoro. In her introduction, titled "Hemingway's Italy: Paradise Lost," Sanderson gathers in one usefully comprehensive chapter information about all of Hemingway's visits to Italy. The book also offers a detailed bibliography of works on Italy by Hemingway, including unpublished stories, journalism, short stories, and novels.
In their essays opening the collection, both Nancy R. Comley and Kim Moreland draw on the concept of "Italianicity" first advanced by Roland Barthes in his article "Rhetoric of the Image." Comley asks us to consider Hemingway's concept of Italianicity before he went to Italy in 1918 and then examine how his experiences there shaped his understanding of its people and its culture. Moreland examines the way in which Hemingway was constructed as a signifier of Americanicity during his time in Italy and subsequently constructed himself as a signifier of Italianicity in Oak Park. She mentions his Italian cloak and polished boots, parties with Italian food and wine, and his enthusiasm for their wholehearted enjoyment of life.
Steven Florcyk examines the unpublished war diaries of American Red Cross Captain Robert W. Bates, documents still held by Captain Bates's family, to call into question Carlos Baker's brief mention of Bates as one of Hemingway's admirers. Bates's comments--for example, his handwritten note exclaiming, "[...] I not only did not admire him but knew him to be an incomparable braggart and liar!" (qtd. in Sanderson 62)--serve as a bracing corrective tO the tendency to romanticize young Hemingway, and the descriptions Bates gives of events remind us how traumatic Hemingway's brief foray into war must have been for a sheltered Midwestern teenager. Florcyk, presently a doctoral student, is to be commended for tracking down these resources and publicizing them for future use by Hemingway scholars.
Kirk Curnutt attends to two neglected (because aesthetically slight) works, Hemingway's "Che Ti Dice La Patria?" (included in the collection Men without Women) and E Scott Fitzgerald's "The High Cost of Macaroni" (published only in the short-lived literary journal Interim). Curnutt contrasts Hemingway's romantic view of Italy with Fitzgerald's nativist views, drawing on Scott Donaldson to suggest that Fitzgerald's "smacked of ugly Americanism" (qtd. in Sanderson 77).
In the next essay, Lawrence H. Martin historicizes the neglected In Our Time short story "The Revolutionist" clearly elaborating the political context that serves as its setting.
The subsequent essay has an unusual evolution; it was written by John Robert Bittner, who died of cancer at age 58, and "completed and revised" by Joseph Flora. With Flora's generous assistance, then, Bittner argues that the Mussolini government's ban of A Farewell to Arms and its attempts to censor the play and film versions were not just responses to Hemingway's treatment of the humiliating retreat from Caporetto; they were an implicit recognition of Hemingway's subtle employment of anti-Fascist themes--Frederic's mockery of the myth of the Roman Empire (AFTA 76), for example.
Jeffrey A. Schwarz examines A Farewell to Arms through the lens of American ethnocentrism and nationalism, specifically the country's stereotyping of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. He makes a compelling case for seeing the novel in terms of its reflections of American discrimination against foreigners in general and Italians in particular (via both the institutionalized discrimination of immigration law and Ku Klux Klan-style bigotry) and demonstrates convincingly that Hemingway saw Italy's welcoming attitudes as a foil to the ugly exclusionary practices that were all too common in the United States in the 1920s.
In "Angling for Affection: Absent Fathers, Fatherhood, and Fishing in A Farewell to Arms," J. Gerald Kennedy notes the missing fathers in the novel and draws on unpublished correspondence between Hemingway and his father to develop what he calls the novel's unexplored autobiographical subtext. As I have argued elsewhere of In Our Time, Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms depicts failed fathers in an implicit condemnation of what Kennedy calls "the problem of authority, the lack of military leadership responsible for the disaster at Gaporetto but more broadly the failure of the ruling patriarchate to avert the war itself" (127).
H.R. Stoneback, whose work is invariably interesting, outlines a case for what he calls "the Borromean subtext" of the Stresa scenes in A Farewell to Arms, invoking the Borromeo family that has owned the Borromean Isles in Lago Maggiore since the 12th century. He also proposes Alessandro Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) as a neglected source for Hemingway's novel. I particularly appreciated his essay's provocative (but ultimately, I think, undeniable) final line: "A Farewell to Arms is a book about love, and--if we serve it well--reading it, talking about it, teaching it, writing about it are Acts of Love" (139).
In one of the slighter essays in the collection, Beverly Taylor situates A Farewell to Arms within several Western traditions, noting its intertextuality with Ovid's mock-epic poetry, the courtly love tradition as explicated by Andreas Capellanus, and Virgil's Aeneid.
Frederic Henry's shooting of the sergeant is the focus of Ellen Andrews Knodt's essay. She argues that we should understand this scene as the moral center (or, arguably, the immoral center) of the novel, a turning point for Frederic that emphasizes the inevitable irrationality of war. Similarly, Chapters 28 and 29, the literal center of the novel, receive Linda Wagner-Martin's attention in her essay "At the Heart of A Farewell to Arms." She is particularly interested in several highly gendered scenes the two virginal adolescent girls terrified at finding themselves with two sergeants, Frederic's subsequent dream of Catherine and its sexually suggestive language ("head," "come," and "blow," for example), and the coolly impersonal killing of the sergeant.
In the concluding paragraph of his brief but pithy contribution assessing a very minor character in "A Farewell to Arms, Robert E. Fleming contends bluntly (and accurately), "Ettore Moretti provides a negative definition of true heroism" and goes on to link him to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator as an example of "the perfect killing machine" (173), suggesting that Catherine's intense dislike for the man has its roots in his amorality rather than just his boastfulness.
As a modernist work, A Farewell to Arms possesses an alternative value system implicit in its discourse. Miriam B. Mandel directs our attention to the groups in the novel, specifically its clusters of medical personnel, and the way in which these "good" doctors are invariably confident and highly skilled, work well under pressure, show a personal commitment to the troops, hold the rank of major, and drink and joke socially. According to Mandel, the conservative values the novel espouses ultimately discredit Rinaldi and offer us only a disturbingly regressive retreat "into the comfort of the clan, into glorification of religion, into abdication of individuality and of individual responsibility" (183).
In "Nick Adams in Italy," the redoubtable Joseph Flora tackles the short story collections, examining the In Our Time vignettes and the Nick Adams short stories specifically set in Italy, "In Another Country," "Now I Lay Me" and "A Way You'll Never Be," in terms of an intertextual web of other Nick Adams stories and other Hemingway writings.
While Across the River and into the Trees remains an aesthetically inferior Hemingway novel, two authors in this collection offer convincing arguments that the novel deserves more scholarly attention despite its imperfections. Margaret O'Shaughnessy traces the allusions to painters and paintings present throughout the novel, including mentions of Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Degas, Tintoretto, Velasquez, and Titian, to show how such allusions are often both unexpected and surprisingly apt. In what he characterizes as a sympathetic reading of the novel, Stephen L. Tanner focuses on what Hemingway calls Colonel Cantwell's "wrath" and "agony" as he faces death. Hemingway awards Cantwell many of his own personality traits--his temper, mercurial nature, roughness, harsh speech, "quickness to take offense" (220)--and dispassionately examines the way those traits blight a man's life. In contrast to reviewers who saw the novel as excessively self-indulgent, Tanner contends that Hemingway deserves credit for his self-awareness and aesthetic distance in this novel.
In the final essay in the collection, Vita Fortunati analyzes Hemingway's appeal for Italian leftist writers. She quotes Italo Calvino's comment that "There was a time for me--and for many others who were more or less my peers-when Hemingway was a god" (qtd. on 227) and mentions other admirers, among them Mario Praz, Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini, Alberto Moravia, Giorgio Bassani, and Antonio Delfini. She attributes at least part of the appeal to Hemingway's "concision, understatement, and parataxis," which she characterizes as the anti-Fascism of Hemingway's style (228). Fortunati also traces the changing reactions to Hemingway's work over the years, noting that in the 1980s, Hemingway represented a disenchantment with the American dream.
Despite an occasional glitch (Bill Newmiller, Hemingway Society webmaster, is mistakenly identified as "Bill Newman" in the Acknowledgements [vii]), this collection is a pleasure to read, and offers fresh insight on both neglected works and the much-studied A Farewell to Arms. Readers will find themselves arguing with its various essays and drawing those Italian works off the shelf to reread them one more time in light of the new understandings this collection offers.
Sinclair Community College
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|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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